Welcome to another Elizabeth House Shop Talk series. This series is for the new shop owner or the shop owner-wanna-be's.
I receive quite a few emails about running a shop and lately I have had a few about what to buy, what the "competition" buys and how to make sure they (the competition) doesn't steal their customers.
I am always surprised when a customer comes in my store and "announces" the new store that is opening down the street from me and she asks me if I am "worried about the competition"?
What? Worried? The only thing I am worried about is that the new owners will change their minds and decide NOT to open down the street from me! If a cute, unique store is opening near mine, I am thrilled! We little boutiques need each other. No matter how wonderful your store is, or how creative it is, very few people will venture to it if there are no other little stores for them to visit as well. It is just our culture.
Have you ever met the store owner who has the attitude that in order for her to succeed, someone must fail? I have. These owners feel that their store must be the only store around that is cute, unique, or special. They actually seem happy when a small boutique closes down. They get joy at others' failures. I find that very sad and also sad that these store owners are so insecure with their own abilities and vision that they actually wish failure upon others. But these people are out there.
I am a very big believer that there is more than enough to go around for everyone. I couldn't service and sell to everyone even if I wanted to! There isn't enough time, resources, or energy to do all that work. I don't need the whole friggin pie, only a slice - a small slice. As I try to find time to work on my on-line store, consider this: Right now, I have a little over 4000 people reading this blog. If only 5% of my readers decide to order three bars of French soap from my on-line store (when it is up and running), that would be 80 orders consisting of 240 soaps! I will have to wrap, package, ship, and follow up on 80 orders! While that is a great sale - it is also a big responsibility. So why in the world would I even try to get the whole pie, when a piece is plenty???
So that brings me to part two of this posting - what and how do you buy for your store. Well, there is the market - which will be a whole posting on its own. But for now, the basics is this: It is smart to check out what other stores are selling. Not so you can run out and sell the same stuff, but so you don't sell the same stuff. I can't tell you how many times I run across a little store near mine that is carrying a wonderful product that would have looked great in my store. Do I go out and buy it for my store. NO! I just usually berate myself for not being "first" in discovering a great item and I pass on it.
I want a store, and have come to be known as a store, that carries things that you can't find anywhere else. Why, why, why in the world does a shop owner walk into my store, see what I am selling, then goes on the hunt to find it, buys it, and puts it in her store? It happens. It has happened recently, in fact. That is lazy, very uncreative, insecurity on the owner's part and just plain poor business sense. As soon as I find out that a store is carrying something of mine and if the store is located near me, I drop that product immediately. Believe me, there are plenty of products out there to buy and I am so small, I do not need to fill my store with stuff that others are carrying.
But, and I mean but....if you are out doing your research (as you should) to see what others are selling, their price points, and how an items moves, and you come across a wonderful item that you know would be just great in your store....then you may consider carrying it if and only if, the store in which you found the item in not in anyway competition as in location. My personal rule is that if a store is more than 30 minutes driving time away from me, then if they happen to carry something I carry, or I find something of theirs that would do well, then I will consider it.
One last thought on your researching other stores. All because an item, that you love, is in a store not near you, does not always mean it is a good idea to order it for your store. You need to ask yourself (or the store owner, if she is open and friendly): how long has this product been on the floor? Did she just get a shipment in? Or has it been sitting there for months and not moving? If not moving, why? Customers don't get it? Prices to high? Not displayed to its full advantage? All of these notes need to be taken into consideration.
And finally, if you come across an item in another store that you think you might want to carry...please have the professionalism to BUY the item and then go home and do your research. Don't take photos of the product, nor whip out a pad and pen and write down info from the label. I have heard stories of a store owner who took tons of photos of products from stores in her area, and just filled her store with like products. Just help the store owner with a purchase and then do your own research. Many times, the product may not be doable only because the minimum order is too high or they have no other product in their line that interest you and the company won't split an order. Many reasons to consider before ordering.
I promise to address going to market in another posting, but for now, remember this: There are plenty of customers and products to go around for everyone. We don't need the whole pie and we don't need others to fail to ensure our success. Frankly, as corny as it may sound, I am really very honored to just be on the pie plate, taking a little slice, along side all of you who own stores and are working their butts off too. What a wonderful little piece of the retail world to be a part of!
Now, go have some pie - and take a slice to your neighbor.
from my house to your house,